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S. Africa’s Opposition Ahead of ANC in Early Municipal Votes

South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance took an early lead in votes counted from today’s municipal elections that may see the ruling African National Congress lose control of some towns and cities.

With 10,796 votes tallied from 95 polling stations, mostly in areas where the opposition has had strong support in recent elections, the DA has 49.2 percent of the vote while the ANC has 42 percent, according to data posted by the Independent Electoral Commission in Pretoria, the nation’s capital. There were 23.7 million registered voters and almost 29,000 polling stations across the country.

“These are very early results,” DA leader, Helen Zille, 60, said in an interview in Pretoria. This share of the vote is “not realistic across the country. At the last election we had 16.6 percent. I’ll be very pleased if we can make progress from there.”

The ANC’s leading role in ending white rule helped it secure more than 60 percent support across the country in every election held since the first all-race vote in 1994. Now opposition parties are capitalizing on discontent over a 25 percent jobless rate and the fact that about a quarter of the nation’s households lack proper sanitation.

The DA, which has been wooing black voters by campaigning in poor townships across the country, aims to win municipalities governing the cities of Pretoria, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth for the first time, and retain control of Cape Town. The ANC runs seven of the country’s eight biggest urban areas. Port Elizabeth is run by the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality, an authority named after South Africa’s first black president.

Attracting Black Voters

“For the DA the imperative is to increase its share of the popular vote,” Aubrey Matshiqi, a political analyst at the Center for Policy Studies, said in a phone interview from Johannesburg today. “They need to maintain their momentum. If they go anywhere near 20 percent that would show they are able to attract new black voters.”

The ANC, led by former party intelligence chief Jacob Zuma, 69, is backed by 59 percent of voters, down from 66 percent in 2009, according to a survey of 2,050 likely voters interviewed by survey company Ipsos Markinor since mid-April. The DA is supported by 19 percent.

The ANC won outright control of 200 of South Africa’s 283 municipalities in 2006, while the DA won seven and formed ruling coalitions in 11 others. Last year, the Independent Democrats, which won 0.9 of the national vote in 2009’s parliamentary elections, agreed to disband and merge with the DA.

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